The Catio Is Ready for Its Close-Up

Some Los Angeles enthusiasts are attempting to mainstream the cat patio—a simple solution for indoor cats who yearn for the great outdoors.
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About 15 years ago, Alan Breslauer ran into a problem: His two cats just weren’t getting along. They’d break into vicious fights multiple times a day, and since he was living in a small apartment in Los Angeles, the melee was both dangerous and disruptive. At his wits end, he remembered an article he’d once read about catios—essentially, outdoor cat enclosures—and he decided to give it a whirl, throwing up a small version on his balcony. "It made a huge difference," Breslauer says. "The two cats never became best friends, but they did learn to tolerate each other, and that was huge."

Several years later, when Breslauer and his wife moved into a house in the Sherman Oaks area, he decided that, since the couple now had a yard, they could build the cats an even larger, "fancier" enclosure. "I couldn’t find anyone to build it, though," Breslauer says. "We sent out requests all over the place and everyone turned us down. I eventually kind of walked the guy who did our floors through what I wanted, but that’s when I got the idea to start building catios for a living."

Now, Breslauer—who’s known as @CatioGuy on Instagram, and boasts almost 150,000 followers—owns and operates Custom Catios, one of about 50 companies globally that specialize in custom cat enclosures. He estimates he’s made hundreds at this point, ranging from about $5,000 to $75,000 depending on what bells and whistles the individual cat owner is after. Breslauer’s own catio, which now extends beyond just the original porch enclosure up into the eaves of his home, is perfect for his three cats—Santos Six Toes, Trey, and Herbie the Love Bug—to lounge in, with its multiple shelved levels, rope-wrapped climbing pole, and sight lines to nearby bird feeders and bushes.

Giving cats the ability to look at but not kill native birds, lizards, and bugs was a hot topic at the recent (and first) Los Angeles Catio Tour put on by local wildlife education organization Teranga Ranch, which gave about 200 ticket holders an up close and personal look at 14 different backyard havens, including Breslauer’s. According to the American Bird Conservancy, about 2.4 billion birds are killed each year by outdoor cats in the U.S. alone. That number might seem astronomical, but if you consider the tens of millions of American cats that roam free each day, it averages out to each kitty taking down about two birds a month. That can have a dramatic impact not just on a bird’s population and migration status, but also on the insect populations that are kept in check by those birds and the litany of predators that have long relied on those birds to stay fed. If you factor in small mammals and reptiles with the birds, the number is actually closer to eight billion casualties, all of which are avoidable.

Enthusiasts say that, even beyond that staggering statistic, the case for catios is strong. "Our pets can get bored just like we can," says Dia DuVernet, president and CEO of Pasadena Humane, one of the tour’s cosponsors. "It’s great for them to have stimulation and enrichment and different experiences, but also, we really encourage people to keep their pets indoors or contained for their own safety." Outdoor cats, DuVernet says, are susceptible to everything from car strikes to coyote attacks to rat poison, with the average lifespan of an outdoor cat falling far short of the 15 or so years an indoor cat can expect to live.

Dana Stangel, executive director of Teranga Ranch, says the idea to do a Los Angeles Catio Tour came after she went on a similar tour up in Portland, Oregon. "We’re losing birds at a record pace from light pollution, cats, and window strikes," she says, "so if we can do anything to take away any of those variables, we should try." Having a catio, she says, "is a fun way to try."

Custom Catios built this colorful outdoor cat enclosure to complement the owners’ existing home in Sherman Oaks, California.

Custom Catios built this colorful outdoor cat enclosure to complement the owners’ existing home in Sherman Oaks, California.

While some of the catios on the L.A. tour were created by Breslauer, others were built by homeowners, who DIYed their spaces after being turned on by the many Instagram accounts dedicated to "catio living" and the many, many YouTube videos about how (and why!) to build catios. One homeowner on the tour spent about $4,800 to adapt a pavilion-like gazebo they bought at Costco, including lumber costs, furniture, labor, and the 100 or so feet of seven-foot-high cat-friendly wire they purchased from Deerbusters to wrap the structure’s exterior, including the vents at the gazebo’s peak. (There are videos about how to do this online, as well as Pinterest pics of particularly lovely examples.) Their cat Fern can access the gazebo via a tunnel from a cat door in their home’s wall, and from what we saw on the tour, she seems to like lazing around inside quite a bit. There are crystals dangling from the ceiling to bat around, a TV-shaped kitty hideaway, and a cushy wicker egg chair for Fern and the owner to share. It feels more like an extension of the home than a pet-specific space, a true example of "indoor/outdoor living."

This "floating catio" by Custom Catios was designed to accommodate a home with minimal yard space in the hills of L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood.

This "floating catio" by Custom Catios was designed to accommodate a home with minimal yard space in the hills of L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood.

Shannon King, who has eight cats, says that for as long as she can remember, she always wanted to have some sort of cat playground. "Growing up, we didn’t take as good of care of our cats as we should have, like so many other people," King says. "Our cats got hit by cars, they had litters of kittens, and they got fleas. I always thought there had to be a way to give your cats access to the outside that was safe, too." When she and her husband Jason bought a home in L.A.’s Northridge suburb, the first thing they did was hire Breslauer. They weren’t sure what they really wanted, but he helped them find the perfect spot under their existing covered patio to construct their 100-square-foot rectangular catio, which is made from wood that’s painted white to match the already existing beams. The actual unit extends seamlessly from the back wall of the house and has multiple tiers of climbable shelves, a hanging wooden basket in which to lounge, and a perfect view of the adjacent in-ground pool. Their cats now have the freedom to come in and out of the house as they please and nibble cat grass or keep an eye on local wildlife from the safety of their many enclosed perches. Jason says he’ll often see the cats go out very early in the morning or late at night when their eyes can pick up animal activity that ours might not, and that some of the cats even choose to spend the night out there from time to time.

"It definitely gives me peace of mind knowing that they can go outside and have the enrichment that I want them to have and I don’t have to worry about where they are, what they’re doing, or who’s getting at them," says King. "We’ve even changed it up a bit over the past three years just to keep it different and interesting for them. It’s like a part of our house, too. I have a zero gravity recliner in there and a weighted eye pillow that smells like jasmine, so I can lie there and the cats will come sit on me and we can all rest and enjoy the backyard together."

Top image courtesy Custom Catios

Related Reading:

Cat Architecture: 6 Homes Designed With Felines in Mind

8 Modern Cat Trees That Will Look Fab in Your Home




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